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The Future of Consumer Power

Where green consumerism goes from here will depend a great deal on the ability to unite companies and consumers. The problems described above -- the lack of public understanding of the relationship between purchases and environmental impacts, the timidity of companies to make environmentally bold statements, and the need for businesses to vastly increase their communication with consumers on environmental topics -- can only be solved by a kind of shared vision between producers and their customers.

In the end, the future will hinge on everyone's ability to improve environmental literacy at all levels, from elementary school to the marketplace. The challenge will be to communicate in a fair, balanced, and accurate way the impact of everyday purchases on the environment in a way that will empower, not alienate, consumers. Without such empowerment, the majority of consumers will be doomed to a frustrating and cynical assumption that there is little they can do and it is up to others to solve the planet's woes.

The environmental and social marketplace is a dynamic, living entity, and today's marketplaces appear more dynamic than ever. The turn of the century has seen the birth and maturing of new environmental and sustainability issues around which consumers are increasingly being heard. The growing furor over genetically modified organisms, for example, whose marketing often promotes their environmental benefits, points up the double-edge sword of environmental technologies in the era of the triple bottom line: They must do more than merely reduce pollution; they must also improve people's lives. Energy deregulation and the advent of so-called "green power" is another area rife with opportunities for consumers to vote with their dollars. The growing activism against sprawl -- and all of the congestion, pollution, and loss of green space that comes with it -- may represent yet another area in which companies will come under consumer and activist scrutiny.

On the horizon loom other, increasingly sophisticated, information-based technologies, such as robotics, genetics, and nanotechnology. All three bring the promise of dramatic new breakthroughs in food, medicine, communications, and other commodities needed for a sustainable world -- as well as the potential to wreak havoc on social structure and natural ecosystems. In the coming years, as these technologies' capabilities become commercialized at breakneck speed, the power of consumers in the marketplace will undoubtedly play a role in whether and how these products succeed -- and their impact on the environmental and social landscape.

Sections
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Sections
Consumer Power: Front Page
Introduction
Saving Face
Green Consumption
Beyond Green
Three Marketplace Trends
The Future of Consumer Power
Audio
Voices
Voices
Hear what Americans randomly interviewed on the street think about our environmental future
Video  56k  T1
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Audio
Betsy Taylor
Betsy Taylor
Executive Director, Center for a New American Dream, discusses consumption and choice.
Audio: Consumption
Audio: Choice
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Kevin Coyle
Kevin Coyle
President of the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, discusses environmental literacy in America.
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Jeff Hollender
Jeff Hollender
President and CEO, Seventh Generation talks about environmentally friendly products.
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External Links
GreenBiz.com
Sustainable Cotton Project
Organic Trade Association
The Center for a New American Dream
The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation
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